MEMPHIS -- There haven't been many nights when Doc Rivers has emerged from the Celtics locker room and offered the following: ''I thought we were outplayed, outcoached, out-everythinged." Last night was one of them.
In a game the Celtics hoped would set a tone for their four-game road swing, they came out as flat as morning-after lager. Rivers used another word to describe the evening: horrible. That was a to-the-point description of the Celtics' play in a 93-76 loss to the Grizzlies before 14,271 at the
Paul Pierce had a season low in points, 15; his previous low had been 16, on two occasions. Pierce had as many turnovers (five) as rebounds and assists combined. The team shot 38 percent and was outrebounded by 14. The 76 points were only 3 more than their season low and they never trailed by fewer than 10 points over the final 28-plus minutes.
''I don't know what it was," said a mystified Pierce, who was 6 of 14 from the field and had only one free throw, a season low, and that was due to an illegal defense technical. ''It was poor execution on our part. It seemed like we just didn't know what to do."
Asked if the performance was disappointing, given the importance of the game, Pierce concurred: ''Especially on the road, with so much at stake."
This one never managed to get even close to the recent string of nail-biters, unless you count a 10-point deficit with six minutes left as cause for seat-squirming. After a timeout, old friend Chucky Atkins (18 points) nailed a momentum-changing trey to start an 8-2 Memphis counter that basically squashed whatever faint hopes the Celtics had of making it interesting.
The Celtics' offense was catatonic for most of the game and, unfortunately, the defense fed off the offense, leading to a banner evening for Jake Tsakalidis, who had season highs of 19 points and 16 rebounds.
''Things are different now," said Raef LaFrentz, referring to the latest rotations and roles on the team. ''Guys don't know where they're supposed to be all the time, and that's what happened. We left Jake alone, partly by design, and that came back to bite us."
So did Mike Miller, with 14 points, while Eddie Jones and Pau Gasol each had 13. Memphis shot 49 percent, snapped a two-game skid, and sensed quite early that it had the Celtics on the ropes.
''Every team has nights where things don't click," said the Grizzlies' Shane Battier. ''And when that happens, you have to take advantage of it. You can't let them think they're still in it, or the next thing you know, they'll rally. It's important to seize those moments, and we did. We really needed this game from a defensive standpoint."
Where to begin in this travesty? Well, the last Celtics lead came with 9:43 left in the first quarter. Do you get the picture? The Grizzlies closed the first with a 10-2 run to lead, 23-16. At that point, Pierce ripped into his teammates, telling them to start focusing on the task at hand and that if they could do it at home, why not on the road? The coaching staff ran through throat lozenges all night; they had reason to be hoarse.
''They wanted it more than us," Rivers said, again a phrase he hasn't had to use very often. He also said he thought some of the young players came out with an attitude that didn't quite fit a team that is now 10 games under .500. ''Our young guys acted like they had done something," Rivers said. ''We played a couple of good games. That's all."
The Grizzlies led, 50-34 at the half and 72-54 after three. The lead swelled to as many as 22 in the third and was 21 in the fourth when the Celtics, with four starters on the bench, made what passed for their only run. Wally Szczerbiak (18 points) knocked down a 3-pointer to start a 13-2 run that ended with a Brian Scalabrine 3-pointer with 6:10 left. The deficit had been cut to 77-67, and the Celtics seemed excited. Memphis called time.
Atkins then made his big three out of the break with only five ticks left on the shot clock. Tsakalidis then dunked off a Jones miss and, after two Kendrick Perkins free throws, Jones hit a quick-release trey to seal the deal.
With 2:27 left, or about the time the Celtics have begun game-winning rallies of late, Rivers raised the white flag and sent in Gerald Green and Dwayne Jones. No use compounding the torture. There are still a lot of games to be played, and Rivers probably can feel somewhat safe -- and hope -- that he won't see any more like the one he just witnessed.